Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker vowed Tuesday that one of his first acts as president would be to “virtually eliminate immigrant detention” centers he described as “inhumane.”
The New Jersey senator promised to bypass Congress and expand protections for undocumented immigrants using an executive order “on day one of his presidency” and reverse almost all of President Donald Trump’s policies.
Booker’s plan for immigration was published just hours after more than a dozen members of Congress visited two Border Patrol facilities on a trip organized by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The representatives, who were told not to take pictures or talk to the detainees, described cramped, unsanitary conditions.
“When kids are being stripped away from their parents and held in cages, I will not wait for Congress to solve this crisis," Booker said, calling the current administration’s policy towards immigrants “moral vandalism.”
Specifically, Booker said he would shut down “inhumane facilities” while requiring all detention centers to meet standards outlined by the American Bar Association. He added that he would “phase out contracting with private prison facilities and county or local prisons.”
"Although there are limits on what we can do to reverse the damage that has already been done to the lives of thousands and to communities across our country, we can put an end to the horror, and turn the page to a new chapter of our history," Booker said in his statement announcing the plan. "Our country must have an immigration system that reflects our values, not one that strips dignity away from people fleeing danger, threats, and violence.”
Booker’s progressive policies will also help to restore protections for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, known as Dreamers. It would reinstate protections for those granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS), who can’t return to their homeland because of armed conflicts, natural disasters or other extraordinary situations.
Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protects Dreamers, in September 2017, though it remains in effect under court order. Similarly, the Trump’s administration’s efforts to end TPS protection for hundreds of thousands of migrants from countries like Sudan, Haiti and El Salvador, were blocked by a judge last October.
To help try and solve the problem at the source, Booker is calling for renewed investment in Central and South America, a direct rebuke of the Trump administration’s recent decision to cut aid to the region.
Monday’s tour was organized after recent reports that hundreds of migrants, many of them children, are being held in squalid conditions after attempting to seek asylum.
“One cell had 13 women from Cuba that had been moved into the facility that morning. They were on sleeping bags — no pillows, no air mattresses,” Rep. Joe Kennedy told VICE News about the Border Patrol station in El Paso. “The cell next door had about 10 people in it, including a 6-year-old boy and a pregnant woman from Cuba. They told stories of a lack of access to medication, a lack of information about what was going on.”
Correction 7/2 9:55 a.m. ET: A previous version of this story misstated that Cory Booker attended the tour of the Border Patrol facilities with Democratic lawmakers Monday. The story has been updated.
Cover: Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., waits to testify about reparation for the descendants of slaves during a hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)